Vectorworks Cloud Services
By Christopher Fugitt
How we collaborate is changing. Over the decades, we collectively seem to switch the style of collaboration back and forth. Currently, we are going from a distributed model of data storage and processing power to one of a centralized computing and data storage in the cloud. We’ve gone from the mainframe to the personal computer and now we are headed back to the mainframe model of computing. The mainframe computing consisted of a relatively powerful computer performing the computing tasks with users having to connect to the mainframe to do their work. Often times the use of the mainframe was billed on an hourly basis. With cloud services we appear to be headed back into that direction. Hopefully the promise of this model will come to fruition where we will be able to collaborate in a meaningful manner.
While we aren’t quite there yet, offerings such as Vectorworks Cloud Services from Nemetschek Vectorworks indicate we are heading in that direction. With the cloud services it is possible to upload our designs for the cloud to perform the processor intensive tasks of printing to PDF, creating sections, elevations, renderings, and BIM data. We still use the desktop to create the model, but how long will it before all of it is done on the cloud? I’m not entirely sure when it will happen, but it does appear to be on the horizon.
Facilitating this change are companies, such as Amazon, creating the infrastructure for companies to tie into. Amazon essentially provides a platform for companies to build on top of. Vectorworks has recently tapped into the Amazon Web Services to provide cloud services for Vectorworks Service Select customers. Vectorworks has provided synchronization and sharing service to store Vectorworks drawings on the cloud. The offering allows for the access of drawings from any web-enabled device. Currently the service is offered exclusively to Vectorworks Service Select members.
The product is easy to use. Log onto the Vectorworks Cloud Services website and download the software. The software is installed and works much like Dropbox or other similar file sharing systems. One big difference is the process isn’t intended to be continuously updated. In order to update the cloud the drawings need to be pushed to the cloud. This is as easy as right clicking on the services icon in the Notification Area Icons and selecting the update option. This manual process is required since the service automatically does the calculations and PDF creation is done each time the drawing is pushed to the cloud. Having a continuous push would most likely overwhelm the cloud services during the day wasting valuable energy.
One benefit of uploading to the cloud is the ability to share the PDF printing portion of the program to other stakeholders in the product. There is an option to send a link to others to access the PDF outputs. This makes it easy to share the information with others. There are settings available to determine how 3D objects are represented in the created PDF. As with most software help files, the ramifications of those settings are left the user’s imagination. In this case I suspect the settings affect the size of the PDFs created.
In addition to the web access, an iOS application is available for use on iPads and iPhones. The application is named Vectorworks Nomad. Nomad makes it easy to create markups with text, freehand, and basic shapes of ovals, rectangles and lines. Measurements are also possible to determine the distance between points. The app also allows for the emailing of any of the markups to other parties.
I see the main application of the Nomad app for taking field notes. For remodeling projects or site work, one can access the drawings from the cloud, and while in the field make notes on the PDF drawings. Once the site visit is over the PDF drawings may be sent into the office by email or through the service to allow drafters in the office to revise the design based on the notes. Additionally, the ability to use the app in meetings will provide for a better method of record keeping of requested changes over the traditional paper and pen note taking on plans.
The product initially came with 1GB of storage on the cloud. After numerous comments in blogs were made about the small size, Vectorworks subsequently raised the limit to 5GB, more than the initial free tier you get with Dropbox.
Vectorworks Cloud Services is still a product in its early development stage at release v1.0.10. Based on their recent version releases they appear to be out with updates every month. The update cycle, if it continues, looks promising, and more improvements will come in the future. If so it will be interesting to follow its development from an early product into a more comprehensive one. The product is currently available in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. The service is expected to be rolled out to other countries in the near future.